Cascade Failures

I’ve been pushing a tad more in IXION, and I keep hitting walls – literally in some cases. When you truly start the game, it boldly announces that you have a 6% chance of survival. Quite true.

This is a game where you’re consistently managing failures, but the tools to manage them are scarce. Resources are limited, but the goals of the game require a rather substantial amount of balance to keep the ship going forward.

For example, in order to complete the first act (not the tutorial), you need to collect 500 cryo pods. These are containers with frozen people in them. You don’t need to thaw them, just hold them. You start this act with around 100 people on board, and in a broad sense, the resources to feed/house twice as many. These people also have continual request from you, such as constructing a new building, or repairing an item. These tasks rarely have any strategic benefit… building a 3rd of a building will keep you off balance.

Completing this task in time gives trust, failing to do so lowers it. As long as you are balancing resources (not tasks), you should be gaining positive trust. If you fail to balance, you lower trust. 0 trust, game over. Ignoring the task has zero consequences – so you learn very quickly to ignore tasks. The reward for the task (a temporary boost) does not at all compensate for the loss of overall economy balance. In the case where you actually need to gain a boost of trust, your population is probably half on strike, you’re low on resources, and it’s nearly impossible to complete the task at all, making it a double negative. It’s unfortunate because this could be an interesting part of the game, but as it stands, the risks exponentially outweigh the gains.

Back to the cryo pods. Now, if you have too many people and not enough work (the only item you can overproduce is food, everything else is restricted), trust goes down. It’s simply not possible to have enough work for everyone. For every person you have, you need to house them. The basic building houses 15… so the math isn’t in your favor here to house 500. Not enough housing, trust goes down. If you have more cryo pods than you have people, trust goes down.

I should add that the space limitations are managed through opening new zones. Each zone you do open though, increases the stress on the hull, increasing your need for resources to repair it. You can open 1 extra zone in the first act and get through. Open a 2nd and you will be on very thin ice, with limited tools to balance the next failure.

Access to better buildings and housing is behind research. The housing requires level 2, which can only be acquired after you have collected the 500 pods due to an in-game event. What this effectively means is that you are forced into a failure state, and given a very limited set of options to proceed. A set of options that you are not aware of until the failure occurs.

You can construct specific buildings (which take space and resources) to boost trust. You don’t need these buildings if things are going well, and space/resources are scarce enough that it’s frankly seen as wasteful. Like buying a snow shovel in a city that has snow once a year… you can get through that day.

You will likely reach the point in act 1 where collecting these cryo pods works, and things are balanced. You will also reach a phase where there are too many cryo pods and you lose trust. Then a point where you have too many people and not enough food/housing. Then not enough resources to build new housing, or the necessary research unlocked to build the thing that fixes the problem. Then trust will dip. Then they will go on strike and stop producing the things you need (like food, which *blows mind* is so dumb). In 10 minutes you’ll go from a super content and balanced population to a cascade failure that you just aren’t equipped to get out of.

And then you’ll get a task requesting thawing more people.

I am super into games where there is an optimal way to play… I am less into games where there is only one way to play. IXION without doubt has an optimal way to play, but it also has a very narrow window of successful options. I am sure I can get into the right mindset to crack this nut, bu holy macaroni is it not today.

2 thoughts on “Cascade Failures

  1. Even though it’s an obvious and well known fact of life I’m still amazed time and again by how different people enjoy wildly different things.

    You could offer to pay me money for it, I still would never play a game like this. đŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must say there are times I question my own sanity when I pick these games up. There is some joy in navigating a maze I suppose, but also recognition while you are in it that it may not be all that well thought out.

      Liked by 1 person

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